Surgeon General’s e-cigarette advisory brings necessary attention to ‘epidemic’ in youth

MD Anderson applauds efforts to educate the public and lower e-cigarette use in teens and adolescents

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center supports the United States Surgeon General’s actions to inform youth, parents, teachers and health professionals about the “epidemic” rates of e-cigarette use among youth and the associated health risks for young people. In order to protect the health of future generations, MD Anderson is committed to programs and actions that prevent teens and young adults from using these products.

“There is clear evidence that these products are not safe for our young people,” said Peter WT Pisters, M.D., president of MD Anderson. “We applaud Surgeon General Adams for raising awareness about the troubling increase in e-cigarette use among youth and for calling for coordinated action to protect our nation’s youth.”

The Surgeon General’s Advisory brings timely attention to the issue. According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 3.6 million middle and high school students were current e-cigarette users in 2018, up more than 1.5 million compared to 2017.

The Advisory emphasizes the health risks associated with e-cigarette use by youth and young adults, originally published in the 2016 report, including:

  • Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical that can have significant negative effects on adolescent brain development, including learning, memory and attention
  • There is a strong association between the use of e-cigarettes and conventional tobacco products
  • Nicotine addiction can increase risk for future addiction to other drugs
  • Flavorings in e-cigarettes may contain chemicals with a variety of health risks
  • Aerosol produced by e-cigarettes is not harmless vapor, but contains volatile chemicals, heavy metals and known carcinogens

Additionally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced actions in November to limit the sale of most flavored e-cigarette products to age-restricted locations and require age-verification for online sales.

“These are significant actions necessary to curb the disturbing trends we’re seeing with teenager and young adults using these products,” said Ernest Hawk, M.D., vice president and division head of Cancer Prevention & Population Sciences. “We know nicotine can cause a variety of health issues, including possibly future tobacco use, so we are supportive of any efforts to prevent children from developing a lifetime addiction to nicotine.”

MD Anderson has implemented a variety of products to educate the public about tobacco use and its harms, including A Smoking Prevention Interactive Experience (ASPIRE), a youth-oriented tobacco prevention and cessation curriculum. The online program is designed to provide an engaging way for teens to learn about the dangers of tobacco products.

Further, as founding partners of the CATCH Global Foundation, MD Anderson and UTHealth School of Public Health support distribution of a youth e-cigarette prevention curriculum, CATCH My Breath, to middle schools across the country.

Through the EndTobacco® program, MD Anderson also has served as a resource for local, state and national tobacco control policies to reduce youth tobacco use. EndTobacco is an initiative of the cancer prevention and control platform, part of MD Anderson's Moon Shots Program™, a collaborative effort to accelerate the development of scientific discoveries into clinical advances that save patients' lives.

Experts have served as an educational resource for policy makers considering actions to limit youth tobacco exposure, such as raising the minimum legal sale age for tobacco products from 18 to 21. MD Anderson also collaborated with The University of Texas System to launch the system-wide Eliminate Tobacco Use initiative in 2016, which supports a variety of collaborative actions designed to advance a tobacco-free culture on all UT System campuses.

MD Anderson also remains committed to helping those who wish to quit smoking or using other tobacco products. The Tobacco Treatment Program provides evidence-based tobacco cessation services, including medications and behavioral counseling, to MD Anderson patients, employees and their families, and conducts innovative research studies to improve cessation methods. In collaboration with EndTobacco, program researchers work to train health professionals in tobacco cessation and provide tele-mentoring education and consulting to clinical providers in behavioral health clinics.